Saturday's Thanksgiving and grand reception for Mr. James Ibori, the former Delta State governor convicted for money laundering, SaharaReporters has learned, cost the government of Delta State N250 million. The event, which held at the Unity Square, Ovwor, Olomu in Ughelli South Local Government Area of the state, was fully supported by Mr. Ibori's protégé and incumbent governor. Mr. Ifeanyi Okowa.
In February 2017, Mr. Okowa approved an expenditure of N350 million for a thanksgiving service and reception in honor of Mr Ibori, who was released from jail in the United Kingdom (UK) in December 2015 after serving a 13-year term for corrupt enrichment and money laundering.
Top government sources told SaharaReporters that Saturday’s event, organized by the Mr. John Oguma-headed Urhobo Political Class, was backed by Mr. Okowa as a way of ensuring Mr. Ibori's support for his second term bid.
"The governor knows he has to please Ibori ahead of the 2019 elections. All the Aso-Ebi used for the event were paid for by the state government. So was the flight that brought the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) National Chairman, Mr. Uche Secondus, and all the members of the party's National Working Committee," said a top government source.
He explained that Mr. Okowa simply used Urhobo Political Class as a facade.
According to the source, the event was conceived by Mr. Oguma, a contractor to the state government and ally of the governor, but was seized by Mr. Okowa.
Another government official told SaharaReporters that apart from the money paid for the chartered flight, a huge sum of money was shared among the entourage of the PDP National Chairman. "Governor Okowa picked the date for the Thanksgiving and reception for Ibori. He also used the opportunity to ensure that the PDP National Chairman could commission a road project in Ughelli," the source said.
Shortly after receiving Mr. Secondus and members of the NWC, Mr. Okowa took the PDP National Chairman to commission the resurfaced Amekpa/Afiesere/Ofuoma Road in Ughelli North Local Government Area of the state before going to the reception venue.
Speaking at the reception, Mr. Secondus, described Mr. Ibori as a national hero that must be accorded respect.
"Because Ibori has always remembered the poor, the masses, his people, hence God fought for him and brought him back. Ibori must be celebrated because he is a man of the people not just in Delta State, but across the nation. Today, he is a factor in this country. On behalf of the masses of our country, we salute you, we salute your courage because you are a man who believes in the struggle of the party," said Mr.Secondus.
He added that Mr. Ibori has ensured that Delta is the only state where all the governors that have ruled the state have been produced by the PDP.
Immediate past governor of Delta State and cousin to Mr. Ibori, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, said the event shamed people who bore tales that there was friction between him and his predecessor. Mr. Uduaghan spoke in Urhobo language.
"They are all living in shame now. They were saying my brother is in prison in London and I refused to visit him. If I traveled to London to visit him, how would they know? They expected me to go on radio to announce it anytime I visited him in London. Ibori is our national leader, a worldwide leader and I thank God for his life today. We must stop rumor mongering and sycophancy in this state. I want to thank everyone, including our spiritual fathers who visited Ibori while in London," Dr. Uduaghan said.
Mr. Okowa spoke in a similarly fawning way. He said Mr. Ibori laid the foundation of development in the state and established a solid political structure.
Responding, Mr. Ibori, said he only went on sabbatical leave. He claimed that God has shamed those who wished him dead. He advised the political class, especially those seeking political offices, not to heat up the polity, saying power belongs to God.